My One-Sided War With the Editor: A Constructive Way to Deal With Rejection

I’m not sure which is worse: being continually rejected, or not caring about it anymore.

I’ve received word back from two more potential handlers of my novel manuscript (can’t call it a book yet, as that implies something that can be held). Not surprisingly, they were rejections. Admittedly, they were very kindly worded rejections, but of the “Dear Author” variety.  “I regret to say that I’m going to pass on this. But please remember, tastes are subjective, so please don’t internalize your feelings of rejection and show up at my office armed with a cheese grater.”

Under ordinary circumstances, this would be the place to cue the rant.  Beginning in 3… 2… wait!

There is an alternative. Be constructive with that soul-crushing sensation that your work, however literary and phenomenal it may be, will forever go ignored because it just doesn’t have commercial value.  Yes!  Be constructive.

So, for all of you stifled writers out there, your voices mercilessly quelled by avalanches of form rejection letters, here is a short story. I wrote it a few years ago, after a vain attempt to get published in a certain lit mag.  I gave up eventually, but not before sending this story to the editor. No, it was not accepted.

Hope you enjoy.


My One-Sided War with the Editor
or
How I Learned to Love My Weight

I lay all the blame on a story I wrote in grape juice concentrate on a sheet of corrugated tin beneath the baking Arizona sun. I called the story “Editor K and the absence of pronouns.” It was, I thought, a bit like buying the editor flowers. The story was short, just 40 words. Had to be. I only had so much grape concentrate. After a few drafts, it read as follows:

Editor K lapped water from a crevice in the rock like a cat. Dense fog swirled around Editor K, beaded on Editor K’s clothing, and dripped from Editor K’s limp hair. A cold wind blew, but the fog did not dissipate.

Obviously, the hook in this story was the lack of pronouns. Instead, I would use the complete proper noun. I could already taste the acceptance letter.

It seemed, however, that Editor K had other views. After waiting a few days, this reply found its way to my inbox:

Dear Jack, Thanks for hitting us with this one, but unfortunately we are unable to use it. The exposition is too heavy for our current aesthetic. Please submit again in the future. —Editor K

Strange, I thought. I tried to pull apart the words and understand their meaning. The use of the word ‘unfortunate’ led me to believe that some circumstance beyond Editor K’s control had made it impossible to use my story. The revelation that the ‘exposition was too heavy’ concerned me. Was it the simile in the opening line of the story? Or the adjectives in general? What was a dense fog anyway? Maybe Editor K has no hair, making it impossible for it to ever be limp.

But there was hope. That last line of the rejection letter, ‘Please submit again in the future.’ Clouds mixed with sunshine. I tried again:

The mist parted, long enough for Editor K to see that Editor K stood on the lip of a cliff. Below, farm houses dotted the fields. Then the clouds pressed in, and Editor K was alone again.

You’ll notice that I did away with the adjectives, and even the similes. I kept the exposition light. Just the facts, or so I thought. But then came the reply:

Jack, Thanks for sending this piece our way, but we’re going to pass. The exposition is just too heavy for our current aesthetic. Please feel free to send something else our way. —Editor K

Clearly, it wasn’t the adjectives. I thought maybe I could solve the riddle through a process of elimination. Perhaps I had used verbs that were unnecessarily descriptive. ‘Parting’ mist and ‘pressing’ clouds. This time, I would strike a more conversational tone. It would be a text so light that Editor K would have to tie it down to keep it from floating away:

Who lived in those farm houses? Editor K spent a lot of time thinking about that. Editor K tried to find a way down to those fields, but the cliff was just too high.

Short. Concise. And above all, not heavy. I’d sacrificed, wanted to mention the way it made Editor K feel to long and remain unfulfilled. But I held it in. Maybe unencumbered writing was all about mastering one’s urges. Suddenly the current aesthetic seemed very Zen.

Short turnaround times are a mixed blessing. Those editors who take six months to respond give you enough time to forget you ever submitted anything, and so rejection comes not so much as a disappointment, but as a surprise. As in, ‘I submitted there?’ But not Editor K. He was back in no time:

J, Thanks for giving us a look, but we won’t be using this. The exposition is just too heavy for our current aesthetic. Please keep us in mind for the future. —Editor K

Again with the references to weight. When I looked at my stories in the mirror, I saw nothing but flesh sagging from places I’d never known existed. I became an anorexic writer. In my despair, I hit the drink. I went on a bender. When I sobered up, two months later, I learned that I’d filled a notebook with scrawl, most of it illegible. But on the last page, I saw this:

A longing to be down among Editor K’s own kind gripped Editor K with such animal strength that Editor K contemplated throwing Editor K’s body over the precipice. But Editor K just clung to the cold stone and wept.

This was heavy. This was visceral, guts hanging, cellulite curdling. This would never be accepted. And something about that tasted sweet in the back of my mouth, like the Boone’s Farm I’d been swallowing by the gallon over the past two months. I had finally learned to love my weight.

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The Literary Burlesque

I lay all the blame on a story I wrote in grape juice concentrate on a sheet of corrugated tin beneath the baking Arizona sun.

Up for a spectacle of the random and bizarre?  Then grab your binoculars and settle into a nosebleed seat at The Literary Burlesque.  I’ve had a story accepted by this whirling kaleidoscope, entitled “My One Sided War with the Editor, or How I Learned to Love My Weight”.  You can read it here.

Hope you enjoy!